Analysis of Gender Roles in Macbeth

In many cultures, such as European in society, women are perceived as the primary caretaker of the home among other oppressive notions that pertain to them. They were in charge of organizing social events, maintaining the family’s reputation, cooking, and cleaning occasionally with assistance from their children. They were considered to be of less value than their male counterparts and, thus, were not permitted the opportunity to have a role in politics, religion, and society. Since the time of Shakespeare, the majority of gender inequities in society have been abolished, and a new era of complete equality is on the horizon.

However, there are barriers of ignorance, whose sole purpose is to hinder progression, that people have yet to break. Women have made efforts to gain equality in society since the 1800’s as seen by the writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the first great feminist treatise. It listed and discussed her grievances concerning gender inequality and had a total influence on the art of travel writing as well as the Romantic Movement.

A sign of this progress in society, other than women’s introduction into several facets of society (i. e. entertainment, business, politics, etc. ), is the adoption of gender role reversal, partly due to its comedic portrayal in television but also its necessity in some homes. As expected, there were some who were more conservative towards gender equality such as, William Shakespeare which was seen in his gruesome play, Macbeth that used this idea of general role reversal to oppose this idea.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth show the first instances of this peculiar gender role reversal, which occurs exceptionally early in the play when Macbeth is conflicted with the choice of either killing Duncan as according to the plan or spare his life as he begins to see the true wickedness of this act. Here Macbeth exhibits weakness, an inability to do something treacherous and soul sullying that was relatively common for men to do in plays written by the likes of Shakespeare.

Because Shakespeare has established what he believes to be a typical man and woman in his assortment of plays, for example Romeo and Juliet, one can definitively claim that Macbeth is acting exceptionally feminine during this section of the play. Lady Macbeth demonstrates her masculinity as she taunts and ridicules Macbeth for even considering terminating their plan to kill Duncan, “excerpt”. She even goes as far as suggesting killing him herself if it weren’t for the fact that Duncan resembles her father; however, she compensates for her inability to kill Duncan by placing the bloody knife in the hands of the unsuspecting servants.

This role reversal is accentuated by Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy that was essentially her grievances of being a lady and her burning desire to become a man because men have the inherent ability to be dastardly, “excerpt”. While her motives for unsexification are not the most benevolent, the fact that the only method of obtaining equal mental capacity to men is to physically be a man, which at the time meant being born as one or, evidently, replacing breast milk with gall, is Shakespeare explicitly exhibiting his misogynistic notions.

Aside from the subliminal sexism seen throughout the play, Shakespeare’s project pertaining to traditional gender roles is seen as the play progresses, but the true message is exhibited nearing end of the play when Lady Macbeth’s guilt induced insanity causes her to commit suicide and Macbeth’s head is decapitated. Macbeth can easily be seen as either an elongated Direct T. V. commercial—if you reverse gender roles you will go insane. When you go insane, you will be hospitalized. When you are hospitalized, you commit suicide. Don’t commit suicide.

Stay with tradition—or a 17th century PSA warning the public about what happens if man and a woman choose to act as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do. Shakespeare obviously believes in traditional views concerning gender hierarchy, the questionable element of it, though, is how he conveyed this message. The consequences of both Lady Macbeth attempting to adopt the role of a man and Macbeth’s seemingly unintentional femininity were gruesome and grotesque that was used to convey a relatively simple idea; this passionate conveyance has several potential explanations.

The first is, because Shakespeare’s plays are suffused with suicide, murder, and death in general, the reader is seeing an integration of gender role reversal with his style of writing which happens to produce a feminist’s nightmare. Shakespeare could have been modestly incorporating this idea into his play but it appeared to the audience as something more. Second is that the catastrophic ending was not unintentional but was for all intents and purpose to scare people into never trying to break tradition.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s demise was due to their non-conformity; therefore, if one were to do as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth did, they would suffer the same consequences. Either way, an underlying theme in the play, if not the most prominent, is that chaos will ensue if the most intrinsic system of humanity is upset, thus, making Macbeth a cautionary tale for all women who dare challenge the system in an attempt to gain rights. However, some are oblivious to the blatant sexism and believe that any implication of this is simply being misinterpreted.

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